Monday, May 17, 2010

Nationals Reviewed: Six Weeks Down

I've always subscribed to the school of thought that you shouldn't pay a damn bit of attention to the standings 'til Memorial Day. (See last year's Blue Jays for an example of why -- hell, maybe see THIS year's Blue Jays.) That being said, if I keep up the pattern, the next in this series will be written on {drumroll} Memorial Day.

Close enough. Here we are. Tied for second. 7th-best record in the league. And all against a schedule that we all thought would slap us on the butt and make us say daddy.

Are we a contender? We can't say yes. But, and here's the amazing part, we can't say no either. This is a team that's potentially poised to surge ahead. Of course with Livan's ERA hovering at the price of a small bag of chips, it could zip around the other way just as easily.

But that's a thought for later days. Let's take stock of what just happened.

Record: 7-6, 20-18 overall. 2nd in the NL East (+1 from last time), 7th overall in the NL (-1 from last time)
Runs Scored: 60 (4.6/g); 164 overall, 11th overall. Weirdly, that's a lot more offense than I'd have guessed. It felt like we had a lot more games where we couldn't get the key run across. That's probably skewed by all the 1-run games -- in particular, the losses this week.
Runs Allowed: 54 (4.2/g); 178 overall, 7th overall. Certainly seems like the pitching has been worse than that. Damn you, Bruney.
Pythagoras Sez: 18-20. Damn you, Marquis


1) The Marlboro Man! Ol' Smokey did just that, lighting up batters all 'round the National League. In 3 games, he struck out out 13, while walking just 3. Despite that (and his 1.86 ERA), Greinke... err.. Olsen won ZERO GAMES. That's some great support!

What's better? Well, his velocity, for one. Olsen's throwing harder than he has in his last two seasons. The velocity's not all the way back, but it's been enough back. Seems like his command has been excellent too. It isn't just that he's not walking batters, it's that he's usually hitting his spots. One of the things MASN does well is superimpose that catcher's mitt on the screen when they do their pitch track thingee. So often you see the catcher catch the ball two feet from where he started. That hasn't really been the case with Olsen. Pudge wants it low and in, it's going low and in. Increased velocity + increased command = a much better pitcher.

Interestingly, the PitchFXers are having a hard time with his pitchers this year. While they're usually decent at tracking things down, about 18% of his pitches can't be identified. I'm racking my brain trying to figure out what they're missing. Is it that slurvy sorta curve he throws?

2) Tyler Walker! I never really got a chance to write it, but Walker was my pick as the guy most likely to earn Riggles' trust going forward. When he had that rough stretch earlier, it was all driven by a few homers. His K and BB numbers were excellent. You can't wave away homers (as much as Jason Bergmann wishes you could), but Walker isn't a 3 homers per game kind of pitcher. For this stretch, he was scoreless, allowing just 4 hits and a walk in 6 appearances. As Riggles struggles to find someone to back up Clip 'N Save, Walker's likely to be the guy (aside from Storen) to fill the role.

3) Adam Dunn! Remember when he was ice cold? .295/ .392/ .727 these last two weeks, and his seasonal OPS is even higher than last year. I'm still waiting for various people to praise Adam for swinging the bat in the 9th inning in yesterday's one-run loss, considering how they complained about how he took too many pitches in a similar situation a few weeks back. What? You mean they expected him to homer, instead of grounding out?

4) Josh Willingham! .273/ .400/ .636. He's suddenly turned into a walking machine. I suspect that as much of that is attributable to whoever's hitting behind him (and their lack of power) as it is to an improved eye. His 18.9% walk rate is 50% higher than last year's career high. As one of the few power threats in the lineup -- and the lowest in the order -- that might not come down all that much over the course of a season. I guess nobody respects Rog Bernardina!

5) Cristian Guzman! I ain't gonna praise him, but dude did hit .467/ .500/ .533

5a) Wily Taveras! I ain't gonna praise him, but dude did hit .429/ .500/ .429


1) Brian Bruney. "We feel he makes us a better club. He strengthens one of our weak points in the bullpen." "I'm happy with the trade." Those are Mike Rizzo. Here's Mark Lerner: "Other bullpen help could come from Brian Bruney and Eddie Guardado." Man, that "could" is doing a lot of heavy lifting in there.

2) Tyler Clippard. Others have gone over the inherited runners problem. Putting those aside, he still had a 5.40 ERA. And now Riggles says some of that's because of TOO MUCH REST? Oy. Strikeouts are down. Walks are up. And, if you look at that pitch track doohickee, he's not hitting the mitt like he was. THAT'S the sign of a fatigued pitcher. It's pretty frickin' obvious.

3) Willie Harris. .167/ .231/ .292. Sure, he's made some game-saving catches, but maybe (just maybe!) if the Nats had an outfielder who could freakin' hit, they wouldn't need to rely on one catch to save the freakin' team's bacon.

4) Nyjer. .250/ .321/ .292. While you wouldn't undo it, and the talent given up wasn't really much, might we want to start reconsidering the big trade? It's not like Burnett was an All-Star last year either. It's still a trade you'd make 8 times out of 6, but if you thought that last year's .340-hitting Nyjer was who we acquired... well, I've got a FLop and Kearns I'd love to sell you.

5) Riggleman! If you put personalities aside... let's say you just focus on the in-game moves... the pitching changes, the bunts, the hit-and-runs... It's Frank all over again. Far too often he can't sit back and let things happen (that doesn't mean placidly standing there like Manny's necessarily better), and he has to try to do too much. Especially the bunting.

Now I'm not one of those anti-bunting crusaders. And in the context of this lineup, where there's a solid power core, but a whole buncha singles hitters at the bottom, a bunt will make sense in certain situations. But what's been driving me crazy, especially, is the 1-out sacrifice. He does this ALL the time with the pitchers. It drives me batty with a runner on first. It farkin kills me with runners on 1/2. STOP IT! Let them swing away with one out! If they end the inning, so be it.

I also wish he'd swing away more. Teams are defensing the bunt very aggressively. There are others, but that's enough for now. I don't wanna bring back the Frank Senior Moments.


For the second straight period, it's gotta be a Scott Olsen start, no? Last was his 1-0 win over the Dodgers. This'd be his no-no-no game. You had the starter taking a no-no deep. You had Jason Heyward coming through in a big spot. You had Tyler Clippard baring down. And then you had a walk-off hit by Willie Harris, after Ryan Zimmerman almost took another ball over the wall of Petey Moylan. Ah, memories.

MVP AWARD: Lots of good bats this week, but a tip 'o the cap to Rog Bernadina. He batted .371, and made a ton of great catches in the outfield. And let's not forget his career game -- where he hit his first two major-league homers.

CY YOUNG AWARD: With an Honorable Mention to Livo, this was clearly Olsen's fortnight. Winston Lite deserves a few wins!

AUSTIN KEARNS AWARD: Anyone else notice Ivan Rodriguez' plummeting average? Or that his OBP matched his batting average? Or that both were .268? He had as many GIDP as XBH. That ain't good.

JOE HORGAN AWARD: I'm going to resist the temptation to rename this the Brian Bruney. For now. But this is clearly Mr. Bruney's award. 11.57 ERA, 9.6 BB/9. That's a bad stretch for any non-position player pitcher.


  • More bad: Is it just me, or does Ray Knight sound a LOT like Bill Clinton when he speaks? Maybe you need to use your imagination a little. But jeez, I'm just thinking he's going to say "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" at any moment. Love it.

    4 straight down... big test here... John Lannan tomorrow meaning maybe 5 straight before we get the Mets again on Wed. You think the schedule earlier this season was tough... I'd say for a team that aspires to win, this is an even tougher challenge.

    By Anonymous Woz, at 5/17/2010 11:26 PM  

  • That bum Storen aint poifect. Get rid of him! You should name it the Drew Storen award.

    Ahhhh, those lousy bums!

    By Blogger Bote Man, at 5/18/2010 1:27 AM  

  • Here's Mark Lerner: "Other bullpen help could come from Brian Bruney and Eddie Guardado."

    Care to amend and expand that comment, Markie Mark?

    Did you also like the credit swap derivative market in 2008, sir?

    And Chris, you're being WAYYYY to tough on Riggs. As an in-game manager, I think he's just about the best there is. He always seems to be about one and a-half moves ahead of the guy in the other dugout. Motivationally and inspirationally, he's the best. Very unfair comparison to Frank, and a significant upgrade from Manny "Can I do three straight 100 losses?" Acta.

    By Anonymous Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me, at 5/18/2010 4:29 PM  

  • Agreed that you're being too tough on Riggs. Recently he got righty-lefty switches right where he wanted them.

    E.g., during the last win, bases loaded, two outs, he puts in PH Taveras (which had me screaming), but then the Cards put in a lefty, and then Riggs puts in Guzy to bat (who then hits a bases clearing triple).

    Last night, he got the match-up he wanted: Dunn vs a righty fastballer, it's just that it didn't work out.

    Riggs doesn't have a lot of spare stars to work with here. Not saying Riggs is perfect, but he sure turned around last year's team, and we can see that fundamentals (like fielding) are a whole lot better this year.

    By Anonymous A DC Wonk, at 5/18/2010 5:05 PM  

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